As the full, fleeting seasons and years glide away?
If seeking directly and for self alone,
The true and abiding you never can stay.
But all self forgetting, know well the law,
It's the hero, and not the self-seeker, who's crowned.
Then go lose your life in the service of others,
And, lo! with rare greatness and glory 'twill abound.
Is it your ambition to become great in any particular field, to attain to fame and honor, and thereby to happiness and contentment? Is it your ambition, for example, to become a great orator, to move great masses of men, to receive their praise, their plaudits? Then remember that there never has been, there never will, in brief, there never can be a truly great orator without a great purpose, a great cause behind him. You may study in all the best schools in the country, the best universities and the best schools of oratory. You may study until you exhaust all these, and then seek the best in other lands. You may study thus until your hair is beginning to change its color, but this of itself will never make you a great orator. You may become a demagogue, and, if self-centered, you inevitably will; for this is exactly what a demagogue is—a great demagogue, if you please, than which it is hard for one to call to mind a more contemptible animal, and the greater the more contemptible. But without laying hold of and building upon this great principle you never can become a great orator.
Call to mind the greatest in the world's history, from Demosthenes—Men of Athens, march against Philip, your country and your fellow men will be in early bondage unless you give them your best service now—down to our own Phillips and Gough—Wendell Phillips against the traffic in human blood, John B. Gough against a slavery among his fellow men more hard and galling and abject than the one just spoken of; for by it the body merely is in bondage, the mind and soul are free, while in this, body, soul, and mind are enslaved. So you can easily discover the great purpose, the great cause for service, behind each and every one.
The man who can't get beyond himself, his own aggrandizement and interests, must of necessity be small, petty, personal, and at once marks his own limitations; while he whose life is a life of service and self-devotion has no limits, for he thus puts himself at once on the side of the Universal, and this more than all else combined gives a tremendous power in oratory. Such a one can mount as on the wings of an eagle, and Nature herself seems to come forth and give a great soul of this kind means and material whereby to accomplish his purposes, whereby the great universal truths go direct to the minds and hearts of his hearers to mould them, to move them; for the orator is he who moulds the minds and hearts of his hearers in the great moulds of universal and eternal truth, and then moves them along a definite line of action, not he who merely speaks pieces to them.
How thoroughly Webster recognized this great principle is admirably shown in that brief but powerful description of eloquence of his; let us pause to listen to a sentence or two: "True eloquence indeed does not consist in speech... Words and phrases may be marshaled in every way, but they cannot compass it... Affected passion, intense expression, the pomp of declamation, all may aspire to it; they cannot reach it... The graces taught in the schools, the costly ornaments and studied contrivances of speech, shock and disgust men when their own lives and the fate of their wives and their children and their country hang on the decision of the hour. Then words have lost their power, rhetoric is vain, and all elaborate oratory contemptible. Even genius itself then feels rebuked and subdued, as in the presence of higher qualities. Then patriotism is eloquent, then self-devotion is eloquent. The clear conception, outrunning the deductions of logic, the high purpose, the firm resolve, the dauntless spirit speaking on the tongue, beaming from the eye, informing every feature and urging the whole man onward, right onward to his object—this, this is eloquence." And note some of the chief words he has used—self-devotion, patriotism, high purpose. The self-centered man can never know these, and much less can he make use of them.
True, things that one may learn, as the freeing of the bodily agents, the developing of the voice, and so on, that all may become the true reporters of the soul, instead of limiting or binding it down, as is so frequently the case in public speakers—these are all valuable, ay, are very important and very necessary, unless one is content to live below his highest possibilities, and he is wise who recognizes this tact; but these in themselves are but as trifles when compared to those greater, more powerful, and all-essential qualities.
Is it your ambition to become a great states man? Note the very first thing, then, the word itself—statesman, a man who gives his life to the service of the State. And do you not recognize the fact that, when one says—a man who gives his life to the service of the State, it is but another way of saying—a man who gives his life to the service of his fellow men; for what, after all, is any country, any State, in the true sense of the term, but the aggregate, the great body of its individual citizenship. And he who lives for and unto himself, who puts the interests of his own small self before the interests of the thousands, can never become a statesman; for a statesman must be a larger man than this.
Call to your mind the greatest of the world, among those living and among the so-called dead, and you will quickly see that the life of each and every one has been built upon this great principle, and that all have been great and are held as such in just the degree in which it has been. Two of the greatest among Americans, both passed away, would today and even more as time goes on, be counted still greater, had they been a little larger in one aspect of their natures—large enough to have recognized to its fullest extent the eternal truth and importance of this great principle, and had they given the time to the service of their fellow men that was spent in desiring the Presidency and in all too plainly making it known. Having gained it could have made them no greater, and having so plainly shown their eager and childish desire for it has made them less great. Of the many thousands of men who have been in our American Congress since its beginning, and of the very, very small number comparatively that you are able to call to mind, possibly not over fifty, which would be about one out of every six hundred or more, you will find that you are able to call to mind each one of this very small number on account of his standing for some measure or principle that would to the highest degree increase the human welfare, thus truly fulfilling the great office of a statesman.
The one great trouble with our country today is that we have but few statesmen. We have a great swarm, a great hoard of politicians; but it is only now and then that we find a man who is large enough truly to deserve the name—statesman. The large majority in public life today are there not for the purpose of serving the best interests of those whom they are supposed to represent, but they are there purely for self, purely for self-aggrandizement in this form or in that, as the case may be.
Especially do we find this true in our municipalities. In some, the government instead of being in the hands of those who would make it such in truth, those who would make it serve the interests it is designed to serve, it is in the hands of those who are there purely for self, little whelps, those who will resort to any means to secure their ends, at times even to honorable means, should they seem to serve best the particular purpose in hand. We have but to look around us to see that this is true. The miserable, filthy, and deplorable condition of affairs the Lexow Committee in its investigations not so long ago laid bare to public gaze had its root in what? In the fact that the offices in that great municipality have been and are filled by men who are there to serve in the highest degree the public welfare or by men who are there purely for self-aggrandizement? But let us pass on. This degraded condition of affairs exists not only in this great city, but there are scarcely any that are free from it entirely. Matters are not always to continue thus, however. The American people will learn by and by what they ought fully to realize today—that the moment the honest people, the citizens, in distinction from the barnacles, mass themselves and stay massed, the notorious, filthy political rings cannot stand before them for a period of even twenty-four hours. The right, the good, the true, is all-powerful, and will inevitably conquer sooner or later when brought to the front. Such is the history of civilization.
Let our public offices—municipal, state, and federal—be filled with men who are in love with the human kind, large men, men whose lives are founded upon this great law of service, and we will then have them filled with statesmen. Never let this glorious word be disgraced, degraded, by applying it to the little, self-centered whelps who are unable to get beyond the politician stage. Then enter public life; but enter it as a man, not as a barnacle: enter it as a statesman, not as a politician.
Is it your ambition to become a great preacher, or better yet, with the same meaning, a great teacher? Then remember that the greatest of the world have been those who have given themselves in thorough self-devotion and service to their fellow men, who have given themselves so thoroughly to all they have come in contact with that there has been no room for self. They have not been seekers after fame, or men who have thought so much of their own particular dogmatic ways of thinking as to spend the greater part of their time in discussing dogma, creed, theology, in order, as is so generally true in cases of this kind, to prove that the ego you see before you is right in his particular ways of thinking, and that his chief ambition is to have this fact clearly understood—an abomination, I verily believe, in the sight of God himself, whose children in the mean time are starving, are dying for the bread of life, and an abomination I am sure, in the sight of the great majority of mankind. Let us be thankful, however, for mankind is finding less use for such year by year, and the time will soon come when they will scarcely be tolerated at all.
It is to a very great extent on account of men of this kind, especially in the early history, that the true spirit of religion, of Christianity, has been lost sight of in the mere form. The basket in which it has been deemed necessary to carry it has been held as of greater import than the rare and divinely beautiful fruit itself. The true spirit, that that quickeneth and giveth life and power, has had its place taken by the mere letter, that that alone blighteth and killeth. Instead of running after these finely spun, man made theories, this stuff—for stuff is the word—this that we outgrow once every few years in our march onward and upward, and then stand and laugh as we look back to think that such ideas have ever been held, instead of this, thinking that thus you will gain power, act the part of the wise man, and go each day into the silence, there commune with the Infinite, there dwell for a season with the Infinite Spirit of all life, of all power; for you can get true power in no other way.
Instead of running about here and there to have your cup filled at these little stagnant pools, dried up as they generally are by the continual rays of a constantly shining egoistic sun, go direct to the great fountainhead, and there drink of the water of life that is poured out freely to every one if he will but go there for it. One can't, however, send and have it brought by another.
Go, then, into the silence, even if it be but for a short period—a period of not more than a quarter or a half-hour a day—and there come into contact with the Great Source of all life, of all power. Send out your earnest desires for whatsoever you will; and whatsoever you will, if continually watered by expectation, will sooner or later come to you. All knowledge, all truth, all power, all wisdom, all things whatsoever, are yours, if you will but go in this way for them. It has been tried times without number, and has never yet once failed where the motives have been high, where the knowledge of the results beforehand has been sufficiently great. Within a fortnight you can know the truth of this for yourself if you will but go in the right way.
All the truly great teachers in the world's history have gotten their powers in this way. You remember the great soul who left us not long ago, he who ministered so faithfully at Trinity, the great preacher of such wonderful powers, the one so truly inspired. It was but an evening or two since, when in conversation with a member of his congregation, we were talking in regard to Phillips Brooks. She was telling of his beautiful and powerful spirit and said that they were all continually conscious of the fact that he had a power they hadn't, but that all longed for; that he seemed to have a great secret of power they hadn't, but that they often tried to find. She continued, and in the very next sentence went on to tell of a fact—one that I knew full well—the fact that during a certain period of each day he took himself alone into a little, silent room, he fastened the door behind him, and during this period under no circumstances could he be seen by any one. The dear lady knew these two things, she knew and was influenced by his great soul power, she also knew of his going thus into the silence each day; but, bless her heart, it had never once occurred to her to put the two together.
It is in this way that great soul power is grown; and the men of this great power are the men who move the world, the men who do the great work in the world along all lines, and against whom no man, no power, can stand. Call to mind a number of the world's greatest preachers, or, using again the better term, teachers, and bear in mind I do not mean creed, dogma, form, but religious teachers—and the one class differs from the other even as the night from the day—and you will find two great facts in the life of each and all—great soul power, grown chiefly by much time spent in the silence, and the fact that the life of each has been built upon this one great and all-powerful principle of love, service, and helpfulness for all mankind.
Is it your ambition to become a great writer? Very good. But remember that unless you have something to give to the world, something you feel mankind must have, something that will aid them in their march upward and onward, unless you have some service of this kind to render, then you had better be wise, and not take up the pen; for, if your object in writing is merely fame or money, the number of your readers may be exceedingly small, possibly a few score or even a few dozen may be a large estimate.
What an author writes is, after all, the sum total of his life, his habits, his characteristics, his experiences, his purposes. He never can write more than he himself is. He can never pass beyond his limitations; and unless he have a purpose higher than writing merely for fame or self-aggrandizement, he thereby marks his own limitations, and what he seeks will never come. While he who writes for the world, because he feels he has something that it needs and that will be a help to mankind, if it is something it needs, other things being equal, that which the other man seeks for directly, and so never finds, will come to him in all its fullness. This is the way it comes, and this way only. Mankind cares nothing for you until you have shown that you care for mankind.
Note this statement from the letter of a now well-known writer, one whose very first book met with instant success, and that has been followed by others all similarly received. She says, "I never thought of writing until two years and a half ago, when, in order to disburden my mind of certain thoughts that clamored for utterance, I produced," etc. In the light of this we cannot wonder at the remarkable success of her very first and all succeeding books. She had something she felt the world needed and must have; and, with no thought of self, of fame, or of money, she gave it. The world agreed with her; and, as she was large enough to seek for neither, it has given her both.
Note this also: "I write for the love of writing, not for money or reputation. The former I have without exertion, the latter is not worth a pin's point in the general economy of the vast universe. Work done for the love of working brings its own reward far more quickly and surely than work done for mere payment." This is but the formulated statement of what all the world's greatest writers and authors have said or would say—at least so far as I have come in contact with their opinions in regard to it.
So, unless you are large enough to forget self for the good, for the service of mankind, thus putting yourself on the side of the universal and making it possible for you to give something that will in turn of itself bring fame, you had better be wise, and not lift the pen at all; for what you write will not be taken up, or, if it is, will soon be let fall again.
One of our most charming and most noted American authors says in regard to her writing, "I press my soul upon the white paper"; and let me tell you the reason it in turn makes its impression upon so many thousands of other souls is because hers is so large, so tender, so sympathetic, so loving, that others cannot resist the impression, living as she does not for self, but for the service of others, her own life thus having a part in countless numbers of other lives.
It is only that that comes from the heart that can reach the heart. Take from their shelves the most noted, the greatest works in any library, and you will find that their authors have made them what they are not by a study of the rules and principles of rhetoric, for this of itself never has made and never can make a great writer. They are what they are because the author's very soul has been fired by some great truth or fact that the world has needed, that has been a help to mankind. Large souls they have been, souls in love with all the human kind.
Is it your ambition to become a great actor? Then remember that if you make it the object of your life to play to influence the hearts, the lives, and so the destinies of men, this same great law of nature that operates in the case of the orator will come to your assistance, will aid you in your growth and development, and will enable you to attain to heights you could never attain to or even dream of, in case you play for the little ego you otherwise would stand for. In the latter case you may succeed in making a third or a fourth rate actor, possibly a second rate; but you can never become one of the world's greatest, and the chances are you may succeed in making not even a livelihood, and thus have your wonderment satisfied why so many who try fail.
In the other case, other things being equal, the height you may attain to is unbounded, depending upon the degree you are able to forget yourself in influencing the minds and the souls, and thus the lives and the destinies of men.
Is it your ambition to become a great singer? Then remember that if your thought is only of self, you may never sing at all, unless, indeed, you enjoy singing to yourself—this, or you will be continually anxious as to the size of your audience. If, on the other hand, you choose this field of work because here you can be of the greatest service to mankind, if your ambition is to sing to the hearts and the lives of men, then this same great law of nature will come to assist you in your growth and development and efforts, and other things being equal, instead of singing to yourself or being anxious as to the size of your audience, you will seldom find time for the first, and your anxiety will be as to whether the place has an audience-chamber large enough to accommodate even a small portion of the people who will seek admittance. You remember Jenny Lind.
Is it your ambition to become a fashionable society woman, this and nothing more, intent only upon your own pleasure and satisfaction? Then stop and meditate, if only for a moment; for if this is the case, you never will, ay, you never can find the true and the genuine, for you fail to recognize the great law that there is no such thing as finding true happiness by searching for it directly, and the farther on you go the more flimsy and shallow and unsatisfying that imitation you are willing to accept for the genuine will become. You will thereby rob life of its chief charms, defeat the very purpose you have in view. And, while you are at this moment meditating, oh grasp the truth of the great law that you will find your own life only in losing it in the service of others—that the more of your life you so give, the fuller and the richer, the greater and the grander, the more beautiful and the more happy your own life will become.
And with your abundant means and opportunities build your life upon this great law of service, and experience the pleasure of growing into that full, rich, ever increasing and satisfying life that will result, and that will make you better known, more honored and blessed, than the life of any mere society woman can be, or any life, for that matter; for you are thus living a life the highest this world can know. And you will thus hasten the day when, standing and looking back and seeing the emptiness and the littleness of the other life as compared with this, you will bless the time that your better judgment prevailed and saved you from it. Or, if you chance to be in it already, delay not, but commence now to build upon this true foundation.
Instead of discharging your footman, as did a woman of whom I chance to know, because he finally refused to stand in the rain by the side of her carriage, with his arms folded just so, standing immovable like a mummy (I had almost said like a fool), daring to look neither to one side nor the other, but all the time in the direction of her so-called ladyship, while she spent an hour or two in doing fifteen or twenty minutes' shopping in her desire to make it known that this is Mrs. Q.'s carriage, and this is the footman that goes with it—instead of doing this, give him an umbrella if necessary, and take him to aid you as you go on your errands of mercy and cheer and service and loving kindness to the innumerable ones all about you who so stand in need of them.
Is there any comparison between the appellation "Lady Bountiful" and "a proud, selfish, pleasure-seeking woman"? And, much more, do you think there is any comparison whatever between the real pleasure and happiness and satisfaction in the lives of the two?
Is it the ambition of your life to accumulate great wealth, and thus to acquire a great name, and along with it happiness and satisfaction? Then remember that whether these will come to you will depend entirely upon the use and disposition you make of your wealth. If you regard it as a private trust to be used for the highest good of mankind, then well and good, these will come to you. If your object, however, is to pile it up, to hoard it, then neither will come; and you will find it a life as unsatisfactory as one can live.
There is, there can be, no greatness in things, in material things, of themselves. The greatness is determined entirely by the use and disposition made of them. The greatest greatness and the only true greatness in the world is unselfish love and service and self-devotion to one's fellow men.
Look at the matter carefully, and tell me candidly if there can be anything more foolish than a man's spending all the days of his life piling up and hoarding money, too mean and too stingy to use any but what is absolutely necessary, accumulating many times more than he can possibly ever use, always eager for more, growing still more eager and grasping the nearer he comes to life's end, then lying down, dying, and leaving it. It seems to me about as sensible for a man to have as the great aim and ambition of life the piling up of an immense pile of old iron in the middle of a large field, and sitting on it day after day because he is so wedded to it that it has become a part of his life and lest a fragment disappear, denying himself and those around him many of the things that go to make life valuable and pleasant, and finally dying there, himself, the soul, so dwarfed and so stunted that he has really a hard time to make his way out of the miserable old body. There is not such a great difference, if you will think of it carefully—one a pile of old iron, the other a pile of gold or silver, but all belonging to the same general class.
It is a great law of our being that we become like those things we contemplate. If we contemplate those that are true and noble and elevating, we grow in the likeness of these. If we contemplate merely material things, as gold or silver or copper or iron, our souls, our natures, and even our faces become like them, hard and flinty, robbed of their finer and better and grander qualities. Call to mind the person or picture of the miser, and you will quickly see that this is true. Merely nature's great law. He thought he was going to be a master: he finds himself the slave. Instead of possessing his wealth, his wealth possesses him. How often have I seen persons of nearly or quite this kind! Some can be found almost anywhere. You can call to mind a few, perhaps many.
During the past two or three years two well-known millionaires in the United States, millionaires many times over, have died. The one started into life with the idea of acquiring a great name by accumulating great wealth. These two things he had in mind—self and great wealth. And, as he went on, he gradually became so that he could see nothing but these. The greed for gain soon made him more and more the slave; and he, knowing nothing other than obedience to his master, piled and accumulated and hoarded, and after spending all his days thus, he then lay down and died, taking not so much as one poor little penny with him, only a soul dwarfed compared to what it otherwise might have been. For it might have been the soul of a royal master instead of that of an abject slave.
The papers noted his death with seldom even a single word of praise. It was regretted by few, and he was mourned by still fewer. And even at his death he was spoken of by thousands in words far from complimentary, all uniting in saying what he might have been and done, what a tremendous power for good, how he might have been loved and honored during his life, and at death mourned and blessed by the entire nation, the entire world. A pitiable sight, indeed, to see a human mind, a human soul, thus voluntarily enslave itself for a few temporary pieces of metal.
The other started into life with the principle that a man's success is to be measured by his direct usefulness to his fellow men, to the world in which he lives, and by this alone; that private wealth is merely a private trust to be used for the highest good of mankind. Under the benign influences of this mighty principle of service, we see him great, influential, wealthy; his whole nature expanding, himself growing large-hearted, generous, magnanimous, serving his State, his country, his fellow men, writing his name on the hearts of all he comes in contact with, so that his name is never thought of by them without feelings of gratitude and praise.
Then as the chief service to his fellow men, next to his own personal influence and example, he uses his vast fortune, this vast private trust, for the founding and endowing of a great institution of learning, using his splendid business capacities in its organization, having uppermost in mind in its building that young men and young women may there have every advantage at the least possible expense to fit themselves in turn for the greatest direct usefulness to their fellow men while they live in the world.
In the midst of these activities the news comes of his death. Many hearts now are sad. The true, large-hearted, sympathizing friend, the servant of rich and poor alike, has gone away. Countless numbers whom he has befriended, encouraged, helped, and served, bless his name, and give thanks that such a life has been lived. His own great State rises up as his pall-bearers, while the entire nation acts as honorary pall-bearers. Who can estimate the influence of a life such as this? But it cannot be estimated; for it will flow from the ones personally influenced to others, and through them to others throughout eternity. He alone who in His righteous balance weighs each human act can estimate it. And his final munificent gift to mankind will make his name remembered and honored and blessed long after the accumulations of mere plutocrats are scattered and mankind forgets that they have ever lived.
Then have as your object the accumulation of great wealth if you choose; but bear in mind that, unless you are able to get beyond self, it will make you not great, but small, and you will rob life of the finer and better things in it. If, on the other hand, you are guided by the principle that private wealth is but a private trust, and that direct usefulness or service to mankind is the only real measure of true greatness, and bring your life into harmony with it, then you will become and will be counted great; and with it will come that rich joy and happiness and satisfaction that always accompanies a life of true service, and therefore the best and truest life.
One can never afford to forget that personality, life, and character, that there may be the greatest service, are the chief things, and wealth merely the incident. Nor can one afford to be among those who are too mean, too small, or too stingy to invest in anything that will grow and increase these.
More from Ralph Waldo Trine
- Lived from September 6th, 1866 to February, 22nd 1958
- Born in Mt. Morris, Illinois
- Most popular book is In Tune With the Infinite
- Was an early leader in the New Thought movement.